I was brought up by my (much older) sister, but unlike my Dickensian namesake I was able to pronounce my own name. And I didn't call her Mrs Joe partly because her husband's name was Jack, but mainly because I cannot recall having called her anything, (within earshot that is!). But she did have a tickler even though she never named it.
"Yes Pip" said Joe "and what's worse, she's got Tickler with her". At this dismal intelligence, I twisted the only button on my waistcoat round and round and looked in great depression at the fire. Tickler was a wax ended piece of cane, worn smooth by collision with my tickled frame.
Tickler it was not, but rather an instrument of pain to be inflicted upon the seat of my short trousers when, for whatever reason, a hard slap on the backs of my legs was deemed insufficient. So like Pip I was brought up by hand and in this case my Sister did actually use that phrase and quite often. Jack, her husband played little part in my young life beyond the occasional admonition to Do as your sister tells you! I did, mostly.
But no I did not get involved in giving brandy to a convict, nor did I indulge Great Expectations about my future. However my life was highly affected by a visit to a strange elderly lady who I shall call Mrs Havsum and her niece, later to be my wife, Stella. This story concerns my first interaction with these two. To avoid confusion I should now explain that I first met them when I was, I think, about ten years old and that would have been 1950. Long after Dickens in time but not perhaps in attitudes. Preparation for the visit involved me in an unusual midweek bath in the usual galvanized vessel set in front of a tiny electric fire and filled with large jugs of water which had been boiled specially in the copper. Yes we did have a bathroom, unheated and the water to it was supplied by a boiler behind the front room fire, which was never lit until the evening. Preceding my supervised scrub, I had remained in my pyjamas listening, attentively of course, to the stream of directions, dire warnings and admonitions that emitted from my flustered sister. Like all adults of that period they regarded their young charges as personal (and unreliable) emissaries whose behaviour directly reflected on the state of the said adult's position in Society. That my behaviour on this important mission should be exemplary was both essential and unlikely and my sister was doing her best to expound the fact of the former while attempting to thwart the latter. I, I who....., will be judged by the way you behave today and should I hear one word, just one word mind.... you will... And there followed the direst threats of not just one hiding but a whole week of them or perhaps a month.
So following the most rigorous of scrubbing I was arrayed in not my Sunday Best, but in clothes bought specially for the occasion. On Sundays I wore a short trousers suit in a rather prickly material largely green and since the label said 7 to 9 it was getting a little tight. On this occasion I had some new grey shorts (size 11 to 13) so they reached my knees, my well scrubbed knees. And a jacket with sleeves that reached over my hands. I didn't care for them, but new underwear was a real treat, not least for having new and serviceable elastic to hold up my pants. My likewise oversized socks had to be folded both inside the shoes that I had spent an hour shining the night before, and also below my knees. Thus regaled, I was inspected from every angle and received "I suppose you'll do", rapidly followed by: Now remember every word I have told you. And do not dare to spoil those new clothes, I have scrimped and saved and..........
I wasn't told why I had to visit this old lady; " Do as you are told and don't ask questions" was the standard approach then. And so I walked rather uncomfortably from our Council house down past the shops, over the level crossing using just one finger to open the gate, lest I should get my hand or even worse my jacket dirty. Along a leafy road to, what to me, was a totally different world where people actually owned their own houses, and even had telephones. Number 13 was not like the other houses in the Avenue though. The front garden contained high dense green trees or shrubs completely obscuring the windows. Neither could I see a front door and there was a chain around the iron garden gate. I now realise that meant that my hostess had influence since most iron gates had disappeared to help the war effort.
A window was raised, and a clear voice demanded `What name?' To which I replied, “Pip”. The voice returned, `Quite right,' and the window was shut again, and a young lady came across the court-yard, with keys in her hand. This is Pip, is it?' said the young lady, who was very pretty and seemed very proud; `come in, Pip.'
The girl who came to unlock it was indeed pretty and although probably about my own age was altogether taller and stronger. And proud too: I suppose you are Philip, follow me. She said very abruptly. The front door was at the side of the house, it was ajar and, as she pushed it open, it squeaked terribly and seemed to lead into total blackness. Take your shoes off and leave them there on the newspaper. I obeyed and as my eyes became accustomed to the dark hall, illuminated by he smallest light bulb I had ever seen, I saw dark brown stairs rising to my right and to my left several brown doors. Close the front door, I did very carefully, not wanting to bang it and I noticed it's name THISLEDO HOUSE.
Its other name was SATIS; which is Greek, or Latin, or Hebrew, or all three - or all one to me - for ENOUGH.' `Enough House,' said I; `that's a curious name, miss.' `Yes,' she replied; `but it meant more than it said. It meant, when it was given, that whoever had this house, could want nothing else. They must have been easily satisfied in those days, I should think. But don't loiter, boy.' Though she called me `boy' so often, and with a carelessness that was far from complimentary, she was of about my own age. She seemed much older than I, of course, being a girl, and beautiful and self- possessed; and she was an scornful of me as if she had been one-and-twenty, and a queen.
In there, she said and clattered up the stairs, evidently she had not taken off her shoes. I knocked timidly and quite a kindly voice said Come in Philip. That door squeaked too and by a small coal fire sat Mrs Havsum. Her face seemed kind but probing, like a well meaning, but no nonsense, head mistress, like I had had in the Infants. The only other thing I can remember about her appearance, apart from her piercing grey eyes, was her very trim ankles, not at all like my dear sister's. Come and let me look at you, she patted a stool beside her which was covered with a sort of tapestry. I sat on it gingerly and tried to ignore the uncomfortable irritation it instantly applied behind my knees. My sister's often repeated words Don't fidget boy came into my head. Mrs Havsum began with the usual patronizing questions which I tried to answer politely. When she began to ask about my parents, I became uncomfortable, because I knew next to nothing about them, all my questions to my sister had stopped long ago because they made her dangerously angry. Then Mrs Havsum's questions became more probing and my answers by contrast almost irrelevant. After just a few halting words from me she would launch into a long sentence which invariably began When my husband was alive.... And then like a sword she injected Does your sister punish you Philip? I think my face went as red as my knees were getting from the small but hot fire in front of us and my eyes remained fixed on them. I answered yes ma'am, quite often and she pressed for details. Eventually she clapped her hands as if bringing a school lesson to an end. Now you must play in the garden with Stella
`I am tired,' said Miss Havisham. `I want diversion, and I have done with men and women. Play.' I think it will be conceded by my most disputatious reader, that she could hardly have directed an unfortunate boy to do anything in the wide world more difficult to be done under the circumstances. `I sometimes have sick fancies,' she went on, `and I have a sick fancy that I want to see some play. There there!' with an impatient movement of the fingers of her right hand; `play, play, play!'
I was directed through the heavily curtained French windows and was immediately blinded by the autumn sunshine outside. I stepped out into a garden lined by dense bushes and trod onto damp grass before I remembered my shoes, because I caught sight of Stella, swinging on a branch of a tree at the far end of the lawn. In a foretaste of her forethought, which would later become my wife's hallmark, she jumped down and brought my shoes to me. Sit on there she said, pointing to a grubby looking deck-chair. I hesitated and she pushed me into it. Then, kneeling in front of me, she began to put on my shoes. Can Philip tie his own laces, Course I can, I said angrily and then, of course, fumbled them. She officiously rested each shoe on her knee and tied double knots. Then she looked into my eyes which just possibly were beginning to look tearful and shocked me by saying I can see your pants I jumped up and looked down at my knees Made you look, made you stare, made you show your underwear and she danced off and did a couple of very consummate cartwheels showing hers. I was both angry and entranced. Bet you can't stand on the swing she taunted. Course I can and I did and she pushed me higher than I had ever gone.
`Why don't you cry?'
`Because I don't want to.'
`You do,' said she. `You have been crying till you are half blind, and you are near crying again now.'
For some time she continued to taunt me in every possible way, until finally we were summoned inside. This time the interrogation concerned my immortal soul and more specifically whether I knew the Catechism, and when I was going to be confirmed. These things meant nothing to me and all I could say was that I did go to Sunday School . I had no idea that it was a Methodist one and therefore very below par in Mrs Havsum's view. Stella maintained a silly sneer whenever I dared look at her. Then another sword like question Has he been good, Stella? made me look at Stella's face properly and it told a worrying story, but this time she replied Oh yes, very good. I'm very glad to hear it said Mrs Havsum, so was I, very, other wise we should have had to punish you. I didn't like the sound of that either, especially the we.
She pressed half a crown into my hand and told me to come back on Saturday, so that they could begin teaching me the Catechism. Stella escorted me out to the gate. Next time I might tell my aunt you weren't very good, were her parting words. I walked home with very mixed feelings, but the half crown helped.
She laughed contemptuously, pushed me out, and locked the gate upon me